MIT Mistake Leads to Flexible Micro-Machine Discovery

You have to hand it to MIT; even when they fail to accomplish what they set out to do, they end up inventing something wonderfully cool. This was the case when researchers there tried to develop a new method for printing circuits onto plastic. Their efforts weren’t turning up the results they wanted, but after a while they realized that they’d done something even more amazing: they’d created the world’s first printed Microelectromechanical devices (MEMs).

MEMs are in plenty of gadgets already; the tiny machines make motion-sensing video game controllers work, they measure air pressure in car tires, and allow digital movie projectors to work. But as useful as they are, they’ve been somewhat limited until now because of their rigidity, as well as their complicated manufacturing process. The method discovered in the MIT lab will allow MEMs to be printed in larger arrays, and the plastic film they’re printed onto is flexible, making completely new uses possible. And because the new manufacturing method will be much less expensive and much more environmentally friendly than the old way, we may see MEMs popping up in even more types of devices very soon.

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See more in New Materials or under Science. February, 2010.